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Bill encouraging data center water studies advances to Virginia House floor for vote

Some geese float on the Occoquan River (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A committee in the Virginia House of Delegates on Friday advanced to the House floor a bill that would require localities to conduct water studies prior to approving data centers.

The bill, introduced by Del. Josh Thomas, a freshman Democrat who represents western Prince William County in the 21st District, would encourage local governments undergo site assessment to examine the effect of data centers on water usage, carbon emissions and agricultural resources.

Groups in Northern Virginia have long called for water studies to be conducted at the sites of proposed data centers, which use large amounts of liquid to cool the thousands of computers found within.

Data centers’ impact on local water sources was most notably questioned prior to the recent approval of the PW Digital Gateway tech corridor when the Fairfax County Water Authority sent a letter to Prince William County officials in 2022 asking that one be performed. To the dismay of anti-data center activists and environmental advocates, the county never performed a comprehensive study of the potential impacts on water quality in the Occoquan Reservoir from the Digital Gateway.

“This vote is a wake-up call to the data center industry,” Thomas said in a statement. The citizens of the Commonwealth, especially those in western Prince William County, have demanded more transparency in the data center siting process, and this bill is a critical first step. HB338 will encourage localities to analyze the impact of data centers on the community before projects are approved – not after.”

He continued, “While these centers can be an important source of tax revenue for localities, we cannot allow unrestrained development to harm our communities. I’m pleased to see that the General Assembly is weighing in on the issue of data center development. My colleagues and I will continue to push this legislation all the way to the Governor’s desk.”

The House Counties, Cities, and Towns Committee on Friday sent the bill to the House floor for a vote. Should the House approve the legislation, the Virginia Senate and Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin must also sign off for it to become law.

Del. Ian Lovejoy, a Republican member of the committee who represents western Prince William, voted in favor of reporting the bill to the House floor.

“As co-patron of HB338 I was happy to see it move forward,” Lovejoy said in a text message. “As we await the outcome of the data center [study], any incremental gain in adding reasonable accountability to the data center siting process in a win.”

Democratic Sen. Danica Roem, a data center critic who also represents western Prince William and is a patron of the bill, also called the legislation a “win” and a step toward encouraging “local governments to complete work on application reviews prior to voting.”

Roem continued, “My hope is that this will lead our new Board of County Supervisors and staff to work collaboratively together to serve the best interests of Prince William County residents. This is the first step on the road to reform.”

Other Northern Virginia Democrats who are patrons of the bill championed its advancement to the House floor.

“The most important thing about sustainable development is to listen to our communities, and this bill makes progress in ensuring that big businesses listen to our communities as they develop technologies for the 21st century,” Democratic Del. Dan Helmer of Fairfax said in a news release from Thomas’ office. “We’re proud to be working with leaders at the local, state, and federal level to protect our climate and ensure our communities are heard.”

Del. Kannan Srinivasan, a Loudoun County Democrat, underscored the importance of evaluating the environmental impacts of data centers. “I am excited to support my fellow classmate as a Chief Co-Patron on his bill,” Srinivasan said in the news release.

This article was written by FFXnow’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

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